Congress has directed the Pentagon to look into fielding female-specific kit ranging from rucksacks to body armor to field urination devices.
Lawmakers are concerned that the services haven’t done enough to ensure that individual combat equipment is designed to fit the female body properly despite the increased role women have played in dismounted ground combat over the past decade.
The increased interest in this issue comes on the heels of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision in January to lift the ban prohibiting women from serving in combat arms units such as infantry and Special Forces.
The House Armed Services Committee has ordered Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “to provide a report to the congressional defense committee by February 15, 2014, that details the Department’s programs to develop and field individual equipment that is properly sized, weighted, and designed to accommodate its use by women across all of the military services,” according to the May 23 HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Markup to the proposed 2014 defense budget.The Army has already taken steps to design female-fitting kit with its effort to test body armor specifically sized for the female form. Equipment officials plan to field it to females deploying to Afghanistan this summer.
“The report should include, but not be limited to, plans to provide a greater range of clothing sizes for women service members, the potential utility of rucksack frames and other carrying equipment designed specifically for women, as well as the advisability and feasibility of providing all female service members with female urinary diversion devices as part of their standard issued set of personal equipment.”
The Marine Corps, however, has said publically that it has no plans to follow the Army on this endeavor – a defiant move that may lead to a showdown with lawmakers.
“The committee commends the Army for taking these actions and expects similar actions by the other military services,” the markup report states.Army Training and Doctrine Command also announced in mid May it has started a scientific review working with U.S. Army Medical Command, U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine and Army Research Institute to assist in the development of gender-neutral physical standards for all soldiers as the service prepares to integrate women in direct-combat units by 2016.